I’ll be going on sabbatical for a while, so I’ll leave you with a further discussion of the failings of Capitalism. Any talk of growth is simply another version of the capitalist system. In order to ensure the survival of our species, we must break from that paradigm. It’s as simple as that. Below are excerpts of an essay which hits on the major problems of our current economic system. I’ll post again when I can, but the next two weeks will be sporadic.
… Harmony in the world—among its people and between humans and the rest of the ecosystems—is not possible in the context of capitalism. Capitalism, a system that has been in existence for some 500 years (merchant capitalism for approximately 250 years and industrial capitalism for about 250 years)—a relatively short time in the 150,000 year history of anatomically modern humans—has shown that it fosters interpersonal relations and metabolic interactions with the earth that are detrimental to achieving a harmonious existence. This is a result of capitalism’s basic characteristics and the relationships it creates as it normally functions. The purpose of capitalism is not to satisfy human needs and preserve the environment. There is only one purpose and driving force—ultimately responsible for both its dynamic periods and its crises and long periods of slow growth (stagnation)—and that is the accumulation of capital without end. The capitalist system has a number of basic characteristics and also fosters specific human characteristics and relationships. Here are ten key aspects of capitalism:
- It has to grow (or else it is in crisis) and its very logic and motivating force impels growth.
- It has no other driving force than the accumulation of ever greater amounts of capital.
- Through the creation of so-called “externalities” (or side effects) it wreaks damage on humans as well as the ecosystem and the life support systems needed by humanity and other species. In Paul Sweezy’s words: “As far as the natural environment is concerned, capitalism perceives it not as something to be cherished and enjoyed but as a means to the paramount ends of profit-making and still more capital accumulation.”1
- It promotes the use of nonrenewable resources without regard to the needs of future generations, as if there was no end to them, and abuses even renewable resources such as ocean fisheries and forests.
- It creates vast inequality in income, wealth, and power both within and between countries. Not only class, but race, gender, and other inequalities are built into its laws of motion.
- It requires and produces a reserve army of labor—people precariously connected to the economy, most kept in poverty or near poverty—so that labor is available during economic upswings and workers can easily be fired when not needed by businesses.
- It promotes national economic and political competition and imperialism, leading to wars for domination and access to resources.
- It fosters and rewards those particular human traits that are useful for thriving or even just existing in such a possessive-individualist society—selfishness, individualism, competition, greed, exploitation of others, consumerism—while not allowing the full expression of those human characteristics needed for a harmonious society (cooperation, sharing, empathy, and altruism).
- It leads to the breakdown of human health since people operate in a hierarchical society, with many working under dangerous and physically debilitating conditions or in jobs that are repetitive and boring—while subject to job loss or fear of losing their job. (There are many adverse long-term health effects following the loss of one’s job.)2
- It leads to the breakdown of healthy communities as people become more solitary in outlook and behavior and indigenous culture is replaced by the dominant national or international capitalist culture and outlook. People become dedicated to obtaining more for themselves and their families and depending less on reciprocal relationships with others.
The growth imperative of capitalism deserves special attention because it is one of the major stumbling blocks with respect to harmony between humans and the environment. Accumulation without end means using ever greater quantities of resources—without end—even as we find ways to use resources more efficiently. An economy growing at the very meager rate of 1 percent a year will double in about seventy-two years, but one growing at 2 percent a year, still a low rate, will double in size in thirty-six years. And when growing at 3 and 4 percent, economies will double in twenty-four and eighteen years respectively. China recently has seen recorded growth rates of up to 10 percent, meaning economic output doubles at a rate of approximately every seven years! Yet, we are already using up resources far too fast from the one planet we have—depleting the stocks of nonrenewable resources rapidly and misusing and overusing resources that are theoretically “renewable.” If the world’s economy doubles within the next twenty to thirty years this can only hasten the descent into ecological, and probably societal, chaos and destruction.
Thus capitalism promotes the processes, relationships, and outcomes that are precisely the opposite of those needed for an ecologically sound, just, harmonious society.
Rational and useful alternative solutions to any problem depend upon a realistic analysis and diagnosis as to what is causing it to occur. When such analysis is lacking substance the proposed “solutions” will most likely be useless. For example, there are people fixated on nonrenewable resource depletion that is caused, in their opinion, by “overpopulation.” Thus, they propose, as the one and only “solution,” a rapid “degrowth” of the world’s population. Programs that provide contraceptives to women in poor countries are therefore offered as an important tool to solving the global ecological problem. However, those concerned with there being too many people generally do not discuss the economic system that is so destructive to the environment and people or the critical moral and practical issue of the vast inequalities created by capitalism. Even the way that capitalism itself requires population growth as part of its overall expansion is ignored.
Thus, a critical aspect almost always missing from discussions by those concerned with population as it affects resource use and pollution is that the overwhelming majority of the earth’s environmental problems are caused by the wealthy and their lifestyles—and by a system of capital accumulation that predominantly serves their interests. The World Bank staff estimates that the wealthiest 10 percent of humanity are responsible for approximately 60 percent of all resource use and therefore 60 percent of the pollution (most probably an underestimate). Commentators fixated on nonrenewable resources and pollution as the overriding issues cannot see that one of their main “solutions”—promoting birth control in poor countries—gets nowhere near to even beginning to address the real problem. It should go without saying that poor people should have access to medical services, including those involving family planning. This should be considered a basic human right. The rights of women in this respect are one of the key indicators of democratic and human development. But how can people fixated on the mere population numbers ignore the fact that it is the world’s affluent classes that account for the great bulk of those problems—whether one is looking at resource use, consumption, waste, or environmental pollution—that are considered so important to the survival of society and even humanity?
In addition to the vast quantity of resources used and pollution caused by wealthy individuals, governments are also responsible. The U.S. military is one of the world’s prime users of resources—from oil to copper, zinc, tin, and rare earths. The military is also is the single largest consumer of energy in the United States.5
While capitalism creates many of the features and relationships discussed above, we must keep in mind that long before capitalism existed there were negative societal aspects such as warfare, exploitation of people and resources, and ecological damage. However, capitalism solidifies and makes these problems systemic while at the same time creating other negative aspects.
Living in Harmony with the Planet
It is certain that there is no way to reach a truly harmonious civilization with an economic system in which decisions are made by private individuals based on how much capital will be accumulated as well as personal greed and consumerism. In such a society “[s]ocial relations became but reflections of the dominating force of society’s capitalist economics.”6Hierarchical class structures are solidified—with workers (blue and white collar), small business owners (this includes farmers and craftspeople working on their own or in small units), and owners and managers of large businesses. The relationship of a worker to a business manager or owner reflects differences of wealth and power in the workplace and in the world outside. And the worker and the boss have differing interests. The boss is trying to maximize profits while the worker is trying to get more income and better working conditions. Because of the motive force of capitalism and the procedures, practices, and approaches embedded in its DNA, there is no way to reform or modify the system to accomplish the goals of sustainability, harmony, or ecological civilization. Capitalism, in its very essence, is anti-sustainability, anti-harmony, and anti-ecology. For Marx capitalism generated an “irreparable rift” in the metabolism of nature and society, requiring the “restoration” of this basic metabolism essential to life—a restoration that necessitated a more harmonious social order beyond capitalism.7
No one can predict the details of any future civilization. But, to be ecological and socially sustainable—basic requirements for harmonious society—an economy will need to have the sole purpose of satisfying basic human material and nonmaterial needs (which, of course, includes a healthy ecosystem) for all people. As with many pre-capitalist societies, economics will need to be submerged within human relationships and must be under control of the people…